Bridgestone/Firestone didn't want its dealers to just hear about the attributes of its latest sport-utility vehicle tire.
They wanted them to see, feel and experience for themselves the ride, performance and style of the new premium Bridgestone Dueler H/L Alenza, designed specifically for owners of luxury sport-utility vehicles.
So the tire maker invited about 30 tire dealers from the U.S. and Canada to get up close and personal with the Dueler H/L Alenza in a ride-and-drive event Sept. 13 and 14 in Napa, Calif., during which the company officially introduced the SUV tire. Dealers tested the Dueler H/L Alenza on three separate luxury SUVs winding through the back roads of Napa Valley's wine country. They then tested the tire on the track at nearby Infineon Raceway, pitting it against the Michelin Cross Terrain in wet braking and on a wet autocross layout.
``We call this tire `elegance with an edge,''' said Phil Pacsi, executive director, North American consumer tire brand marketing for BFS. ``It's a very smooth riding tire, a very quiet tire, but it has an edge. It's got some very good braking and some very good handling.''
The SUV market, Mr. Pacsi said, has become segmented into three distinct vehicle categories-mass market, sport and luxury. Along with this, there's been an evolution of SUV tires into each of these categories.
``With the proliferation of SUV models, a growing segment of consumers demand the same luxurious amenities once found only on upscale automobiles,'' Mr. Pacsi said.
The Dueler H/L Alenza is designed to address that luxury segment and is targeted at vehicles such as the Acura MDX, Cadillac Escalade, BMW X5, Volvo XC90, Lexus RX 300 and Mercedes Benz M Class.
Built with the Bridgestone's UNI-T (Ultimate Network of Intelligent Tire Technology) and UNI-T AQII (the next generation UNI-T and UNI-T AQ advanced quality) technologies, the tire offers passenger car comfort, excellent wet and dry performance and a quiet ride, Mr. Pacsi said. And it has improved performance characteristics over the Dueler H/L, the other premium tire in the Dueler lineup.
``We consider this a flagship tire for us,'' he said of the Alenza.
Along with enhancing the tire's performance characteristics, BFS paid attention to its appearance. The Dueler H/L Alenza features what BFS calls ``a geometrically sophisticated-looking tread pattern inspired by famous architectural designs.'' To give the tire a clean showroom appearance, the all-season Dueler H/L Alenza features a ventless tread, added Rick Wright, a BFS tire engineer.
And to keep the Dueler H/L Alenza from turning brown as it ages, BFS has employed a new manufacturing technology known as ``Ever-Black'' that retains the black color better throughout the life of the tire.
This helps satisfy ``the style and performance requirements of this discerning target audience by maintaining its black, new tire look longer,'' Mr. Pacsi said.
Appearance is important in tires, agreed tire dealer Jim Wochinske, president of Pomp's Tire Service Inc. in Green Bay, Wis., a participant in the Dueler H/L Alenza launch. ``People want their vehicles to look nice, and tires are an important part of their vehicle,'' he said, adding tire care products like Armor All wouldn't be in existence if consumers didn't care.
BFS is offering the Dueler H/L Alenza in eight 16-, 17- and 18-inch sizes in T- and H-speed ratings.
The H-rated versions feature black serrated sidewall lettering and have a UTQG treadwear rating of 600 and A ratings for traction and temperature. The T-speed-rated tires, which come in white outlined lettering, have a UTQG treadwear rating of 700, with an A rating for traction and a B rating for temperature.
The tires come with a 65,000-mile limited treadwear warranty.
Mike McIntyre, vice president and an owner of Parrish-McIntyre Tire Co., who also attended the Napa event, said he will position the Dueler H/L Alenza as an ``upsell'' at his four-outlet dealership in the Akron area.
``We use a product like this to get the customer into a premium category,'' he said, noting that premium buyers are willing to pay more. ``This is definitely a very quiet tire and will be for the discerning customer looking for ride comfort, handling and maneuverability,'' Mr. McIntyre said.
While Mr. Wochinske also was impressed with the tire's quiet ride, he anticipates a limited market for the premium product in his marketing area of the upper Midwest. ``It's a unique vehicle the Alenza goes on,'' he said.
Instead, he sees his stores selling more Firestone Destination A/Ts, another light truck and SUV tire recently introduced by Bridgestone/Firestone. Designed with an aggressive tread pattern and a rugged all-terrain appearance, the Destination A/T is available in 24 R- and S-speed-rated sizes in rim diameters ranging from 14 to 17 inches.
``It will be a larger seller because it fits more vehicles,'' he said.
BFS is making the Dueler H/L Alenza at plants in both the U.S. and Japan.